Unless you’ve been out of the IT sphere for some time, you would definitely have heard the hype about cloud computing. It is all the rage in the IT world and has the potential of restructuring IT models to an almost limitless ability while also providing a reduction in costs. I will touch upon some of the areas I feel SMBs should know about if they are considering restructuring their IT infrastructure over the cloud.
Let’s start with the first question – What is the cloud? The answer can very discreet and specific or very vague and broad. It is generally defined as accessing computer services and resources, mostly over the Internet, that are intrinsically scalable and dynamic and are offered on a pay-per-use scale. Some definitions include three key attributes: a pay-per-use model, elasticity in its infrastructure, and hosting of the services by a third party. Other components that can be thrown in include virtualization and the sharing of resources with multiple businesses. It would be noteworthy to mention here that there are three types of cloud models. One is private (self-contained network), the other is public (over the Internet) and the third is a hybrid model (over the Internet with a private virtualized environment).
How do businesses benefit from all this “clouding” around? Well, the possibility of a shared infrastructure that uses network and computer resources from different places has the ability to scale very well. The Internet is huge, and why not use that vastness to help allocate your business servers, email, and applications on an “elastic” infrastructure that can be grown or reduced very easily and all you have to do is pay for what you use. Services of the cloud include email such as Gmail or Yahoo! Mail that keep all of your email on remote servers – the servers of Google accessible over the Internet. Possibilities of other such services include the use of processing power and outsourcing it to a place that can do all of the processing and send it back to you via the cloud; or having something called SaaS – Software-as-a-Service – where all the software is accessed through the cloud on a pay-per-use scale, eliminating the need for buying multiple licenses and deploying it on all the computers in the company.
The cloud allows small businesses to enhance their operational structure that in turn improves their business overall. This is done primarily through the reduction of costs for on-premises technology. I can see how Gmail or Yahoo! Mail has totally shifted the burden of storing emails locally to the cloud, where all the emails are stored on remote servers on the Internet. Imagine not having to setup Exchange or other mail servers locally and all of the management is outsourced. All your business would have to do is pay for what you use. If you need more, then it can be scaled accordingly and very easily instead of having to purchase resources for your own servers.
The story isn’t all cozy for businesses thinking of shifting to the cloud. There are issues such as: does the service provider have the ability to transfer your data to another service provider should you want to change? What privacy guarantees does the service provider offer and are there any trust levels? Or what is the reliability of the services being attained as an outage can seriously affect your company’s business? I would caution also to small businesses that in some cases costs can actually increase. Even though capital costs can cut, that doesn’t mean that the operational costs won’t add up.
In the end, it is a crucial decision to make whether to switch to the cloud or not. I personally do a thorough search regarding the services that can be put to the cloud before making any hasty decision.